"I'm living my worst nightmare," says Carly, a petite 29-year-old who works as an office manager. After only four months of marriage, she's convinced that her husband, Frank, is unfaithful.
After his last so-called business trip, Carly told Frank to pack up and leave. "I'm positive he's living with Samantha, the receptionist at his office," she says.
As a child, Carly was desperately unhappy and she vowed that, if she ever married, her relationship would be different from her parents'. "Dad was a philanderer and an alcoholic, and Mother never stood up to him. Honesty and complete faithfulness are the most important things to me," she states.
When she met Frank three years ago at a party, they were attracted to each other immediately. After three months, they set a wedding date, but, a week before the ceremony, Carly panicked and called the wedding off. "Frank was an angel," she recalls. "He never tried to punish me."
Six months later, they were finally married. For about two months, their life was idyllic. But then Frank changed: He began to stay late at the office.
But what really pushed Carly over the edge was when Frank told her he had to attend weekend seminars -- two in a row. "I accused him of going away with Samantha, and he blew up. But I still have no explanation for the black lace slip that fell out of his suitcase when I opened it," she snaps.
Frank, a 30-year-old construction foreman, has been begging Carly to let him move back home, but he refuses to talk about those two weekends. "I won't talk about Samantha because that relationship is history. Let's just say she was there when I needed someone. Carly has to learn to trust me," he insists.
That, he claims, is something she apparently is incapable of doing. "My wife kisses me only to sniff my breath, because she suspects I've had a few beers after work with the guys. And she's convinced I'm living with Samantha. Well, Samantha moved out of state three weeks ago."
Frank says he wants his marriage to last as much as Carly does; it's the first time he ever felt cherished. His childhood was as lonely and mixed-up as his wife's. While committed to his marriage, he cannot live with a woman who "turns the pockets of my jeans inside out to see if I'm hiding bar checks or women's phone numbers."
Moving beyond betrayal
"Both Carly and Frank come from families that failed to offer them any kind of role model for family life," notes Nora Dixon, a clinical social worker in Guilford, Conn. While it can take a long time to work through the pain and distrust that follow infidelity, counselors note that more often than not, the marriage can be made stronger -- especially if partners are committed to uncovering the reasons.
In counseling, Frank finally admitted that he had been unfaithful, but he had been trying to punish Carly for the hurt and pain she had caused him by breaking their engagement. Though Carly was devastated at first, she decided she loved Frank enough to forgive his brief infidelity and try again.
If, like Carly and Frank, you are struggling with issues of broken trust, these points can help you through this difficult time:
* Ask yourself: Can I stay with this person knowing what I know? You will never be able to erase what happened, but you can make the decision to move past it.
* Get your feelings out. It's human and natural to feel anger and rage at the discovery of betrayal. Pretending that everything is fine, or that you're no longer angry when you really are, isn't good for you or the healing of your relationship. Think about seeking individual therapy or group counseling.
* Remind yourself that you will survive this breach of trust.
* Make an active effort to trust again. Focus on ways in which your partner can be trusted. Concentrate on positive qualities.
-! * Give yourself time to heal.